Bowman on Martinez, 'The Injustice Never Leaves You: Anti-Mexican Violence in Texas'

Author: 
Monica Munoz Martinez
Reviewer: 
Timothy Bowman

Monica Munoz Martinez. The Injustice Never Leaves You: Anti-Mexican Violence in Texas. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2018. 400 pp. $35.00 (cloth), ISBN 978-0-674-97643-6.

Reviewed by Timothy Bowman (West Texas A&M) Published on H-Texas (June, 2019) Commissioned by Linda Powell (Amarillo College and Wayland Baptist University)

Printable Version: http://www.h-net.org/reviews/showpdf.php?id=53533

Walter Prescott Webb is something of a household name among Texas history enthusiasts, due in large part to the popularity of his 1935 book, Texas Rangers: A Century of Frontier Defense. He released a second edition in 1965 containing a foreword by then-president Lyndon Baines Johnson. Webb’s analysis in both editions was essentially uncritical of the Rangers, bordering on hagiographic, and contributed immeasurably to the organization’s almost mythic image in the state. Toward the end of his career, however, Webb admitted that his work had failed to address the many violent or extralegal excesses committed by the Rangers against ethnic Mexicans across Texas. These acts—running the gamut from extralegal killings to what arguably resembled ethnic cleansing—would have shocked many of Webb’s readers from the past three decades.

One of the most important insights from Monica Muñoz Martinez’s new book, The Injustice Never Leaves You: Anti-Mexican Violence in Texas, is that Ranger cruelty against ethnic Mexicans, along with state-sponsored mob violence, was common knowledge in Texas-Mexican communities over the course of the twentieth century. Martinez’s book is thus as much about forgetting the tragic as it is remembering. While Mexicans in Texas live under the historic shadow cast by the violence from the turn-of-the-twentieth-century period, scholars like Webb, the so-called “keepers of history” “convinced the broader United States that this period should be remembered instead as a time of progress” (p. 8). The Injustice Never Leaves You addresses the need for a new analysis regarding the violence committed by the Texas Rangers or their tacit approval of similar actions taken in the name of the state. Martinez’s methodology chronicles specific acts of savagery and then explores how those involved attempted to place them in context.  

Any work on the legacies of violence must deal with its perpetrators, which Martinez addresses early in her study. She uses individual events to reveal the commonalities among acts by the Rangers or private citizens acting in the name of the state. The first incident selected is one of mob violence involving the brutal lynching of Antonio Rodríguez in Rocksprings, Texas, in 1910. A mob seized Rodríguez, burning him alive for allegedly murdering a local Anglo woman, Effie Greer Henderson. The issues of the Rodríguez lynching have been discussed by previous historians; Martinez, however, deals with how that lynching has been remembered over time by both the Anglo and Hispanic communities. The county jail from which he was forcibly removed still stands today as a constant reminder, and while contemporary journalists covered the killing, triggering riots in Mexico, and diplomats briefly argued over its international significance, the tragedy was soon forgotten by Anglos. Meanwhile, local Hispanics have struggled for over a century to find a way to understand such horrific acts committed by those wearing a uniform or with the tacit approval of those who were sworn to protect all.

Official histories tended to dismiss such violence no matter the context. Martinez, however, analyzes certain acts, such as the killings of Jesus Bazán and his son-in-law, Antonio Longoria, who were murdered in September of 1915 by Texas Rangers, to expose the reality of Texas history. Their deaths occurred in the Lower Rio Grande Valley during a period that some call la matanza, or “the massacre,” during which perhaps hundreds of ethnic Mexicans were killed by mobs along with state and local law enforcement officials. Martinez suggests this rampage of violence may have resulted from the revelation of el Plan de San Diego, a “revolt” which was a planned reprisal against Mexicans. The official records fail to explain the killings, leaving generations of family members to grapple with the memories of such widespread violence, committed against innocent individuals.

“Preserving memories became a strategy of resistance against historical inaccuracies and social amnesias,” Martinez eloquently argues, among the people who lived through this nearly forgotten horror (p. 126). She uses another event, known as the Porvenir massacre of 1918, wherein Texas Rangers executed fifteen innocent Mexicans in a small town in Texas’s Big Bend country. Rather than granting the victims due process and a jury trial to determine if they had committed a robbery as claimed by local Anglo ranchers, the dominant culture of state-sponsored violence, so common along the border during this period, allowed for their summary executions by agents of the State of Texas. Widows of some of the murdered men filed an unsuccessful suit against the state, reflecting the brutality and indifference of the cultural milieu of the time. The hopelessness of those being victimized by those in power was deepened, Martinez reveals, when an effort by the Mexican government to hold both state and federal agencies north of the border liable for the murder of fifteen Mexican nationals failed.

These incidents of violence in the Lower Rio Grande Valley of Texas would likely have been lost to history if not for the efforts of nearby residents who engaged in what Martinez refers to as “vernacular history-making,” or the work of private citizens to overcome the pain of personal memories by engaging in historical research on their own (p. 159).

Illustrating how individuals dealt with sometimes overwhelming private or state-sponsored violence is where Martinez is at her very best. She explores how people grappled with instances of mob or law enforcement killings, exposing the “cultures of violence” that were pervasive in Texas through the first two decades of the twentieth century. In one case, a Joint Committee of the Texas Legislature, headed by Representative José Tomás Canales, exposed the state’s role in perpetuating extralegal mob violence, although the committee's findings did little to stop such violence. Renowned Texas Ranger Frank Hamer, in fact, stalked Canales around Austin during the hearings, threatening him with violence for the committee's report on the Rangers' activities. How some like Hamer failed to come to address the reality of such violence, Martinez insists, is equally significant to understanding the era as how others did confront it. For example, she describes how the Rangers remained idols to many Texans, such as through displays at the Texas Ranger Hall of Fame and Museum in Waco, where the history of this unusual police force’s unsavory acts are downplayed in favor of its perceived heroic accomplishments. As such, it is left to survivors, their advocates, and scholars like Martinez to shed light on the anti-Mexican violence of the period. In January 2016, Martinez and a group of like-minded scholars partnered with the Bob Bullock Texas State History Museum in Austin in creating an exhibit titled Life and Death on the Border, 1910-1920, which generated enthusiastic support for commemorating the anti-Mexican violence that swept across Texas during the first two decades of the twentieth century.

The debates surrounding how people incorporate the reality of violence perpetrated against Mexicans in Texas by both state and nonstate actor are this book’s core concern. Martinez is clear that this process is ongoing, making The Injustice Never Leaves You a landmark study of both history and historical memory that is of deep importance to all Texans. Reading such sensitive, evocative, and well-written scholarship reveals the horrible injustice of events that still haunt certain inhabitants of the Lone Star State. Monica Muñoz Martinez has created a fine multicultural study regarding a significant but too often overlooked period in the complex history of Texas.

Citation: Timothy Bowman. Review of Martinez, Monica Munoz, The Injustice Never Leaves You: Anti-Mexican Violence in Texas. H-Texas, H-Net Reviews. June, 2019. URL: http://www.h-net.org/reviews/showrev.php?id=53533

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